gender studies rule, boys drool: “the conceptual penis” and sexist attempts to discredit feminist scholarship

When I first read “The Conceptual Penis” and the authors’ accompanying article explaining their hoax, I was pissed. I was a women’s and gender studies major in college; the discipline changed my life and my understanding of the world. I hold it in very high esteem (though that’s not to say there are no problems with the field, or with academia as a whole). Gender studies is not only very important to me personally. It’s also an extremely important addition to and subversion of traditional academic departments. The authors of “The Conceptual Penis” and I do not share these views.

The hoax, which was published by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay (under pseudonyms) in the journal Cogent Social Sciences, was a play on a similar “hoax” by the physicist Alan Sokal in 1996. Sokal submitted a fake paper to a peer-reviewed journal as a prank that aimed to show that any article could be published in even fancy journals if it was filled with enough big words and run-on sentences to please postmodern academic sensibilities, and if it aligned with postmodern (left-of-center) ideology.

Inspired by Sokal, Boghossian and Lindsay submitted an article to Cogent titled, “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct.” In a piece that they wrote to explain the hoax, they say:

The paper was ridiculous by intention, essentially arguing that penises shouldn’t be thought of as male genital organs but as damaging social constructions. We made no attempt to find out what ‘post-structuralist discursive gender theory’ actually means. We assumed that if we were merely clear in our moral implications that maleness is intrinsically bad and that the penis is somehow at the root of it, we could get the paper published in a respectable journal…After completing the paper, we read it carefully to ensure it didn’t say anything meaningful, and as neither one of us could determine what it is actually about, we deemed it a success.”

Aside from the arrogant, smarmy tone of the piece (which is annoying but not really a substantive problem), there are some serious issues with the premise of their “hoax”:  at its heart, it’s a sexist attempt to discredit gender studies rather than a genuine academic exploration; their theorizing is not as silly as they make it sound; their own positionalities and ideologies prevent them from seeing the limitations of their “hoax;” and it’s simply bad scholarship with a conclusion that lacks supporting evidence and authors who intentionally obscure any evidence that contradicts their ideology, which is the exact crime they accuse gender studies of committing. To put it bluntly, they’re full of shit and are having a power trip by creating a sexist caricature of gender studies. Continue reading gender studies rule, boys drool: “the conceptual penis” and sexist attempts to discredit feminist scholarship

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DO NOT WEAPONIZE US

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I am Asian American. I’m not a model minority. I am queer and a woman. I’m not a reason to go to war or economically devastate another country.  I made these specific signs because my people, my groups of people, have been used in service of oppression. Continue reading DO NOT WEAPONIZE US

white women, are you fucking kidding me

Yesterday, Libby Chamberlain, founder of the secret, Hillary-supporting Facebook group “Pantsuit Nation,” announced that she was going to publish a book based on the posts in the group. She said that the profits from the book will support her new nonprofit and other progressive organizations, such as the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center. She said that nothing will be published in the book without express, written permission from the poster.  The comments exploded. Some are angry that she is going to be making a profit off of the group, even if that profit is not necessarily financial. Others are defending her, claiming that this will amplify the voice of Pantsuit Nation and raise money for good causes.

To be perfectly frank, for me, this is just the cherry on top of a year in which liberal white women* disappointed me more than I could ever have predicted.  These disappointments varied in degrees of seriousness, but altogether, they paint a picture of the tightly-woven fabric of liberal white women’s bullshit. Continue reading white women, are you fucking kidding me

locker room talk

Trump is at it again!  Within the last week, a tape from 2005 was leaked in which Trump said disgusting things about women that I don’t really want to repeat here.  Trump has defended himself by saying that his comments were just “locker room talk.”  There has been a huge backlash against his use of the phrase “locker room talk” by many people, and rightly so.  His aim with the phrase is not to point out the cultural nature of sexual violence, but to ask that people ignore the violence he perpetuated. And yet…I think he has a point when he calls it “locker room talk.” As many activists, academics, and survivors have already established, sexual violence is not an individual problem. It’s a cultural, institutional, and structural one. That means that sexual violence is not only perpetrated by actual rapists and abusers; it is also perpetrated when anyone uses or excuses sexually violent language, when an institution retraumatizes a survivor, when anyone touches someone without their consent (in a sexual way or not), when anyone makes the choice to ignore sexual violence happening around them.

Male camaraderie is often (but, of course, not always) built upon an ethic of violence.  Men often use misogyny, homophobia, racism, classism, and other forms of violence to bond. That means that some men who have never raped and will never rape anyone might laugh with another man about rape.  That means that some men will say things that objectify and degrade women, even if they never physically hurt a woman.   We can’t act like Donald Trump is wrong when he implies that it’s normal for men to talk that way with each other. The whole problem of sexual violence in our culture is that sexual violence is normalized. If rape and sexual assault and harassment and intimate partner violence were seen as unacceptable, we wouldn’t be living in a rape culture.

We should not excuse Trump’s comments, but we also need to contextualize them.  Trump is foul,  but he’s not the only who is.  Locker room talk is real, and as much as we need to hold Trump accountable for what he has said and done (at least 3 women have accused him of rape, including his ex-wife, a former business partner, and one who says he raped her when she was a young teenager), we also need to hold ourselves accountable for our own complicity in rape culture.  When people find themselves furious at one person for saying something particularly sexually violent, but not at the laws, businesses, law enforcement agencies, advertisements, and individuals who also perpetuate rape culture, that is a problem and a part of enforcing a culture of domination and exploitation. We DEFINITELY need to hold those accountable who claim to be disgusted with Trump’s words, but who perpetuate gendered and sexual violence in other ways (looking at you, every prominent Republican who has decried his comments!). And we cannot treat this as an anomaly, because it isn’t.  We live in a world where people say things like this every damn day, and until that doesn’t happen anymore, Trump is only a tiny part of the problem.

hillary clinton & women: healing wounds from generational difference*

Being the first person from a major identity group to do something big (such as be a woman AND a major party’s presidential nominee) brings intense scrutiny, as Hillary Clinton’s presidential run has made abundantly clear.  A lot of the conversation about Hillary has focused on her relationship to “women” as a group.  There was controversy earlier this year about comments made by Madeline Albright (first woman Secretary of State) and Gloria Steinem (feminist leader), who expressed some anger and disagreement with younger women who supported Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton.  Their criticisms of these young women focused on what I think we could call “gender loyalty.”  Albright said that the reason young women feel okay supporting Bernie is that they mistakenly think that the work for women’s liberation is over, saying a real revolution would involve a woman as president, and that there’s “a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”  Steinem went for a lower blow and said that young women go to Bernie because “that’s where the boys are.

Continue reading hillary clinton & women: healing wounds from generational difference*